Despatch from Kabul | International

No talking peace with a warring enemy

The unceremonious pause in talks and U.S. President Donald Trump’s strong words had helped boost the morale of Afghan troops, a security source said. File   | Photo Credit: AP

U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled peace negotiations with the Taliban last Sunday after the insurgent group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that claimed the life of a U.S. soldier.

In a tweet, Mr. Trump shared that he had planned to separately meet with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David. “[I]n order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations...” he said. Mr. Trump was referring to an attack in Kabul that also claimed the lives of a Romanian soldier and 10 Afghan civilians.

The U.S. President’s decision brought to a halt a dialogue process led by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad that had been taking place for 10 months with several rounds of meeting between the U.S. and the Taliban. The most recent of these seemed to have concluded in a deal that could have potentially seen an end to the U.S.’s 18-year-long conflict in the country.

The cancellation of talks was welcomed by many Afghans who had witnessed increasing violence and civilian casualties even during the duration of the process.

“I think the U.S. should have called off negotiations a long time ago, back when Khalilzad’s efforts did not change the Taliban’s position,” Samira Hamidi, Afghan activist and regional campaigner with Amnesty International told this writer. “Even after nine rounds of negotiations, the U.S. Special Envoy had failed to address issues of cessation of hostilities and ceasefire with the Taliban. In fact the group not only used violence as leverage but also to force the U.S. to pressure the Afghan government to accept proposals such as cancellation of elections,” she reasoned, adding that the increased Taliban attacks across the country and the resulting mass civilian casualties proved that the group was not serious about peace. “The U.S. also gave unnecessary legitimacy to the militant group, who believe they are close to a victory and [to] establishing an ‘Emirate state’ again. It is a worrying situation,” she said.

Mr. Trump followed his move to cancel talks with the militant group with another warning issued on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, vowing to hit the Taliban insurgents “harder than they have ever been hit before”.

Taliban’s response

The group has responded with similar threats and several attacks since the peace talks were first called off. On Wednesday, hours before the U.S. observed the anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban fired a rocket at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. On the following day, a suicide car bomb killed four soldiers at a commando base in the Afghan capital.

Senior security officials who spoke to this writer were concerned about an increase in violence, more so in the light of the presidential elections scheduled for later this month. “Yes, we do expect the level of violence to go up because the Taliban has threatened the [presidential] candidates, and [has] warned Afghans not to participate in the election,” one official said on the condition of anonymity.

However, the collapse of talks has not entirely ruined the prospects of peace. In fact, many Afghan analysts believe that this is but a phase in the negotiation process. “Despite the violence, which was expected from both parties to increase more pressure for bargaining, recent remarks by Mike Pompeo hint that the U.S. is still interested in a deal with the Taliban,” explained Omar Sadr, an Afghan analyst.

“This is also an opportunity for Taliban to sit down with the Afghan government and discuss a real peace process but only if it agrees to a conditional ceasefire. If the Taliban and the Afghan government sit for intra-Afghan negotiations there are good chances for women’s participation as negotiators,” Mr. Hamidy added.

Meanwhile, Afghan security forces remain hopeful, yet cautious of the developing situation. “If they [Taliban militants] don’t agree to intra-Afghan talks then yes, we will hit them harder,” a security source said, echoing Mr. Trump.

He also indicated that the unceremonious pause in talks and Mr. Trump’s strong words had helped boost the morale of Afghan troops, who had been at the receiving end of the growing insurgent violence. “A week ago, everything was complicated for our security forces. While there was air support [from the foreign forces], our security forces needed moral support as well which wasn’t clear because of the Taliban negotiations with the U.S. even as they targeted the Afghans. But now there are no peace talks anymore and even [NATO’s] Resolute Support [Mission] announced that it will fight the Taliban. That’s a big morale booster for Afghan forces.”

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2021 2:13:26 PM |

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